Monthly Archives: December 2013

Friendly French Competitions

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Although I have been competing in Spain for the last six months, since I have been fully part of Real Canoe, in many ways I have not considered myself competing in a foreign country. There are times when I really wish that meets ran in the American fashion, such as designated start lanes, but otherwise being incorporated in such a team has taken away the foreign aspect of competition in Spain. Swimming is swimming. That is part of the beauty of the sport you can pick it up anywhere, and regardless of your language abilities you can still contribute to the team goal.

Two weeks ago, I had what I would call my “true” first international experience. Thanks to my dear friend Tibo I was invited to compete for SFOC in their inter-club swim meet. It is the first time I have been invited, all expenses paid for, to a swim meet outside of my country.

When I arrived in Paris early Saturday morning Morgane was waiting for me with a metro ticket and a large smile! We rode back to her flat, that she shares with Tibo, where I was fortunate to spend the rest of my weekend. It was wonderful to be able to reconnect and hear all about all of the activities in their lives. After a delicious lunch and a quick cat nap, we headed over to meet the team and get ready for the competition. Like Tibo promised, he stayed with me all weekend, in case I did not understand the french. Which if we are honest with ourselves, was basically every conversation. Fortunately for me, my teammates on SFOC spoke fabulous english and we were able to break through and language barriers with smiles.

I swam two relays the first afternoon, the 10×50 free style and the 400 free-style relay. It was a fast session but we were able to pull of Ws in each of the relays. Following the session I was able to join Morgane, Tibo and the rest his family celebrate his sister Caroline’s birthday. She was able to “rent” out a very cute bar, which only stipulated that she met a certain drink requirement and allowed her to provide own food. I had a blast getting to see Tibo’s family again and to meet some of Caroline’s friends.

I am not sure if it was the super comfortable bed or that I had hardly slept the entire week before, but I had one of my best night’s sleep. We had a rather lazy morning since the meet did not start until later that afternoon and then headed straight to the pool.  After a quick warm up, I started the session off with the 800 free relay. Afterwards I was finally able to swim my personal event, the 200 butterfly. To receive the stipend for competing for the team I had to be under a 2:15 and thankfully went a 2:13. Since it was my first meet sc meters 200 fly, I can safely say that it was my best time.

There was still one more race left in the session before we finished the meet, the 400 medley relay. Originally the coaches wanted me to swim breaststroke, which I kept trying to mention was not a good idea. I am a decent IM breaststroker, but that does not mean that I am a decent purebred breaststroker. In fact I am almost positive that I need the backstroke to make it all flow (probably a mental handicap…). Anyways, I told them that my breaststroke tends to have a butterfly kick in it. (A wise coach once said if you are not trying to cheat you do not want it bad enough) They decided to take a look at said “kick” and after 2 25s they decided that I would not swim breaststroke on the relay. I will never know if they thought it was actually illegal or if it would be too slow for the team, regardless I was relieved to be given the task of swimming butterfly on the relay.

We ended up winning the Île de France portion of the meet and came in second in all of France (Tibo please correct me if I am mistaken). To celebrate we headed to a team dinner before heading out for a few drinks. It was a nice way to cap off a great weekend of swimming, giving us all a chance to get to know one another a little bit better. Below are all of the pictures Morgane took for us to document the weekend.

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Above the Team after winning both the Men’s and Women’s portion of the Meetimage-6

Above: Me, Tibo and Duane

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Above: Me, Oliver the Coach of SFOC, Duane

You might recognize  one of the faces in the two photos directly above, which is because my teammate Duane, who used to swim with me on Real Canoe was also brought in to compete for SFOC. We hadn’t seen one another since we ended the summer season and it was nice to see her again and compete on the same relays.

I stuck around Paris for one extra day since Monday was a national French Holiday and I really wanted to get to see my friends outside of the chlorine filled atmosphere. We went to Montmarte and went thrifting through some of the shops, including the famous KILO, where you pay by the weight of the clothing selected. I found two fabulous blazers, both made of 100% wool for 20 euros each and Morgane found a really cute purple cape (not purchased) and knit hat. Macklemore has made the idea of thrifting more popular with his song Thrift Shop; but it has always been something that has interested me. I prefer to have a wardrobe of unique well-made pieces instead of looking like a model out of Zara or H and M and have found that this is the only way to do so with success.

Later in the evening I caught up with Lexie and Lylia for a Cambodian dinner. I have never had Cambodian food before, but will sure be eating more of it in the future seeing as it was the perfect mixture of spices, sweet and spicy at the same time. The following morning I headed back to Madrid ending my weekend escape to Paris.

I am so thankful for having such an opportunity to compete for SFOC and even more so for such wonderful friends who opened their home and treated me like a rock star all weekend. I cannot wait to repay the favor whenever they decide to visit Madrid!!!

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A place worth coming home to!

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I have briefly mentioned how much I am enjoying my new home, noting my first bed, the good location, the hip decorations, etc.; however,  the true blessing are not the material goods that fill the apartment, but rather the people with whom I share it: Rocio and Cristian. I do not want to share too many of their personal details, since this is not their blog. Both are Spaniards, who have moved to Madrid in pursuit of academic and professional opportunities. Rocio is currently teaching English (no we do not speak in English) and Cristian is studying his Masters in Political Theories in the evening and working in the mornings.

Cristian and Rocio wasted no time in welcoming me into their family and extended friend group. There is nothing better than coming home and recounting all of the events of your life with friends. Even though it has only been a month, I feel as if I have known both of these two for much longer.

Many nights you will find Rocio and I cooking ourselves a feast in the kitchen. I have learned how to make a Spanish Tortilla, Escalivada and fantastic potatoes (click here for our favorite Spanish Recipe site). In return I have shared many different recipes I have picked up along the way, such as good homemade tacos and a house favorite, PANCAKES. The theme of the house is sharing. The weekly dinners that were so essential to my last few flats have now become a common daily tradition, but in their regularity they have not lost their importance. Due to Cristian’s schedule he cannot always join us for a meal, but we at least catch one or two with him every week. Since we all have crazy schedules, it is these meals that bring us together and cement our growing bond.

Speaking of food these next two photos are from our Kitchen, the first of both my roommates and the second is my first tortilla!

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Part of being a family, includes  going out together. I have been taken to many new parts of Madrid on our first few outings and we have already decided (we meaning: Cris and I) on our new favorite bar. Below are two pictures from my first night out with Rocio in”La Cabra en el tejado.” All of the art on the walls is made locally and for sale. The beauty of this bar, tucked away in La Latina is that they make quality food and drinks, where you can order anything from a Chai Tea latte to Baba ganoush (Dad, the next time you come to visit I am treating you to a Chai Tea!!).

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This serves as an introduction to my newest roommates and I can only assume that they will play major roles in many of the stories to come. And now it is time to conclude as hunger is striking and it’s time to begin our asparagus mushroom risotto!

Beautiful Buildings Aid Thesis Research

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These last few weeks I have in earnest started the primary source research for my thesis. This has led me to two fabulous places to conduct my research: the Biblioteca Nacional de España and the Palacio Real.

The Biblioteca Nacional de España is the most comprehensive library in Spain, and like most libraries there is an extensive protocol to gain access. For this library you need an official investigator’s card and must leave all belongings  in the designated lockers before entering the main parts of the library. In many cases you do no roam the shelves looking for books, (although there are books on the shelves in the reading room) but rather request what you would like to read in advance, where it is brought out of storage for your use. You cannot bring in extra books from outside the library, nor can you leave with your books. Instead all research must be conducted within their walls. This might sound rather tedious, but personally, I rather enjoy it. It is an escape from my normal routine and gets me out of the house. The reading room is very well lit and the chairs have good back supports, something that many libraries have forgotten are necessary. I also enjoy the occasional run in with a colleague, especially seeing my good friend Gleydi who has just finished her dissertation on Portuguese Merchants in Lima. Below are two images of this library to give you a glimpse of where I am studying! (neither image is mine)

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The other site of research, the Palacio Real, has been a much more prominent figure in my current studies. I am currently in the process of transcribing a manuscript from the 16th century, which will form the base of my project. This means that I must spend many long hours inside the Royal Archive at the Royal Palace. I do not enter with the rest of the tourists who come to see the Bourbon Palace, but rather through a side entrance where I must first present my official documents and take a photo before being given my badge and allowed through to the back patio. Once inside, much like the other library, you leave all of your belongings in lockers and then can begin to work. On a personal note, although I have only spent a month frequenting this Archive, I am already very grateful the warm and welcoming staff. They all have willingly helped guide this first phase of research in various ways. One that stands out was a day when the main reading room was closed and all of the available desk space was occupied. Instead of turning me away, multiple curators and staff members offered me their personal desk space so that I could continue my studies. These gestures that do not go unnoticed and I look forward to the many more hours I will spend in the reading room, seeing as I am no where near done with my manuscript. As the Palace is still in use and royal patrimony it is forbidden to take photos inside the buildings. This means that I have no fancy photos to share, but here is one that I took of the outside!

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Thank you Ikea for a good night’s sleep

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It’s safe to say that I am very very very far behind on all of my blog posts. I am going to try now to sit down and catch myself up to the present because there are too many wonderful things going on and I don’t want you to miss out on any of the adventures.

Where we last left off, I had just moved into a new flat, finished a competition at our  home pool and spent a fabulous night with family friends: William and David. There was one snag in the whole equation, I was missing a bed. Our flat was originally unfurnished. Everything that we have has been graciously donated from a past inhabitant. Nacho, who lived in the room before me, needs the bed that he bought for his new apartment, which is of course not a problem. It just meant that I spent my first Sunday in the flat in IKEA looking for a my own bed. Since I knew before I moved in that I would need to buy a bed, I dutifully looked on the main web site to see the different makes and models. I wanted to be an efficient and smart shopper. I wanted to spend no more than an hour in IKEA because I wanted to enjoy my first Sunday in my new flat.

However, nothing in IKEA is every that easy. Even picking out lightbulbs becomes difficult as you sit and ponder do I get the round, square, or oval? The truth is that you need something that provides light, but with so many choices in front of you it becomes nearly impossible to make a decision. Usually when faced in such situations, I just decide I do not need anything and go home empty handed, something that was impossible when I was searching for something as important as a bed.

At one point in my adventure I found myself lost in a sea of bed  frames when I was truly looking for the mattresses. As I will explain later, I had firmly decided on the bed frame long before I arrived.  I remember wandering aimlessly though the different displays, frustratingly checking every tag two, three, four times trying to figure out why every bed had the same ultra expensive mattress. It was not until I turned another corner that I was pleasantly greeted with the entire plethora of IKEA mattresses.

After trying out many of the different models I finally decided upon one that fit my fancy, a basic foam mattress. It has a 25 year guarantee and more importantly, was the most comfortable one that I tested.

The next step was attempting to find the bed frame and mattress in their large warehouse. Fortunately, that was the easy task since everything is truly well labeled, even if I cannot read the Swedish names. The only difficulty was maneuvering the small trolley cart with a double bed frame and mattress, but like all things in life, if there is a will there is a way.

Later that afternoon the pieces of my bed arrived in my room. I was not only scrupulous in which design I bought based on its price, but also the ease in which it could be assembled. There are many IKEA products that are absolutely fabulous if you are handy with tools. I am not. And therefore, such things would be an absolute nightmare of a sleeping situation. Instead I bought the one bed frame that literally lifted the bed off the floor and required basically no construction. The two bases came fully assembled and my one task was to attach the feet and connect the two pieces. It was completed without any errors (to my knowledge) in less than an hour.

The mattress; however, provided slight difficulty. It does not come true to the size of your bed, but rather rolled in a long tube. When you un-roll it, the instruction manual says that you must wait 72 hours before use. Such news dashed all excitement of sleeping in my new bed. In fact, I felt rather gypped that I had bought a bed and still was not able to use it. Yet, the internet is a wonderful invention because after a few google searches I realized that I could indeed sleep in my new bed it would just be rather hard for the first couple of days, which was  true. Currently, I slumber without any difficulties and in fact look forward to the peaceful rest my OWN bed grants me.

I must say that this is quite a milestone as it is the first bed I have ever boughten! I am still perfecting my room’s set up but will soon send photos of my new room and flat!!